Tried and trusted

Trust is an essential ingredient in all working relationships. When trust breaks down, conflicts may arise and teams may stop working in harmony. The Ombud is there to help you to find your way out before the point of no return is reached.

Reliability, integrity, expertise and good will: these are the four pillars on which trust is built. Trust between colleagues may break down for many different reasons, including misunderstandings, and the way to restoring the relationship is through working on these four pillars.

For instance, if we assume that we do indeed have the expertise to deal with a particular task assigned to us, we may need to improve our reliability by making sure that we meet deadlines and expectations or demonstrate our integrity by acknowledging and accepting accountability for this, all the while showing that we are doing our best to do whatever it takes to achieve the common goals and restore our colleagues’ faith in us.

All four of these pillars need to be in place in order to support and maintain trust but the key ingredient to re-building a relationship where trust has broken down is the last of these elements – indeed, without good will on both sides it will be an impossible task.

Let us look at the following fictitious scenarios where there has been a breakdown of trust:

Mary (fictitious name) has lost trust in one of her colleagues and the whole team is suffering from the difficult situation. When we take a closer look into what happened, we see that the main reasons are missed deadlines and a refusal to provide data, which are perceived as a lack of commitment and team spirit. As a result, Mary doesn’t want to collaborate or share information with her colleague anymore and their working relationship is rapidly degrading. Mary comes to the Ombud’s office because she wants to find ways of resolving the situation.  

Similarly, George (fictitious name) comes to the Ombud’s office because he is confused and frustrated by corridor rumours and what he perceives to be inconsistent behaviour on the part of his supervisor, who seems to say different things to different colleagues and often denies what was said previously. He feels he no longer knows what to believe and does not trust anyone. He finds this situation demotivating and does not know what to do.

In coming to the Ombud’s office, both Mary and George have indicated their interest in clarifying the situations in which they find themselves, thereby demonstrating their good will and the wish to re-build trusting relationships.

However, for this to work and evolve towards a renewal of trust requires good will also from the other side.

By taking this first step, Mary and George have started a process whereby, with the Ombud’s help, they can explore different ways in which to initiate an open and honest conversation with their colleague/supervisor with a view to improving their working relationship and restoring the trust between them.

They may go away from the Ombud’s office with a clearer idea of how to approach their interlocutors, prepared to make their own case, to listen to the other’s point of view and to agree on a course of action that would be mutually beneficial to both of them.  On the other hand, if they do not feel equal to the task, they may prefer to request an informal mediation by the Ombud whose role would then be to ensure that both parties have their say, that points that have been clarified and accepted are not continuously re-discussed, and that the discussion remains at a respectful and acceptable level of exchange.

Whatever the approach that is chosen, whether ‘tête à tête’ or through a facilitated conversation, an honest and open dialogue backed by the genuine wish to improve the situation is the way forward and constitutes a tried and tested way towards re-establishing the trust that is the cornerstone of all good working relationships.

"He who does not trust enough… will not be trusted."

Lao Tzu, philosopher & poet of ancient China

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